Categories » ‘Politics’

Shredding Back The Years

February 23rd, 2013 by

Recently, our after-school program was de-funded by the State of California due to the ongoing budget crisis.  With one swipe of the pen, Governor Jerry Brown wiped out approximately six million dollars of funding from our organization annually which was used to fund after-school program scholarships for the financially disadvantaged.

I’m here to say that I don’t think it was such a bad thing.

Now, mind you, before you consider me some cold-hearted, right-leaning, only-care-for-the-rich jerk, I’ll give you my reasons.

Well, reason, really.

The fact is that whenever you take money from the government, no matter for what noble cause, paperwork – ungodly, unjust, and vast amounts of paperwork – flows from the halls of power as if Mount Olympus had just been moved to Sacramento.

In the case of our funding, the paperwork was called “Desired Results for Families and Children”.  A fairly benign title, really.  After all, who isn’t for positive results for all Californian children.

Ah, but here’s the rub.  While I’m sure that plenty of time, sweat, and effort went into drafting these 31 “desired results” (the actual number fluctuated between 50, 31, and 13 over time), the government demanded that we rate each child’s progress ongoingly according to these standards that were seemingly handed to us from Mount Sinai (which also I surmise is now located in Sacramento, near Mount Olympus).

And rating each child was not enough!  We then, in accordance with our funding contract, had to tabulate and aggregate all the data we generated about each child’s progress, and re-design our curriculum every six months with the end goal being pushing each child’s “rating” up on each of the 31 standards.

Of course, one might ask… where is the room for original curriculum?  What if the emerging curriculum suggested by the children said we should investigate ladybugs… but we didn’t because we were busy making sure that kids understand how to wash their hands well enough to score a 3 on that particular standard?

Aside from the basic bristling of the government telling me what curriculum I must promote and is good for kids, these Desired Results Developmental Profiles (DRDPs in shop-talk) that we had to complete for each child, every six months took hours to complete (probably 3 hours of observation, 1/2 hour of assessment, and 2 hours of administrative number-crunching and curriculum re-designing… per child)!

Let’s multiply it out… if you figure 5-1/2 hours of work per child… and say, like our program, you had 35 children receiving subsidized child care, that comes out to 192.5 man-hours of work… times two (remember this is a semiannual requirement)… that comes to a total investment of 385 hours of work each year… or roughly the equivalent of 18.5% of a full-time job.

Now, the financial payouts are more appealing… in exchange for that 385 hours, we received approximately $122,000 to subsidize these kids’ child care expenses.  About $315 per hour for our work (of course, the workers don’t get that money… it goes into the general budget).

But, finances aside, the main problem with the DRDP is that the ratings are completely subjective.  That’s right… subjective.  Which means I could rate a child a “2″ in the category of self-confidence, and another teacher might see that child as a “3″ or a “1″.  While there are “guidelines” by which to select your rating, the fact is that the rating would still be subject to that teacher’s perception of how the child is.

Another fact is that, while Miss Bobbie might be rating the child now, six months from now it may be Mr. Jim that’s doing the rating.  Given the high turnover rate of workers in the child care field, it’s possible that a child may be rated by a different adult every time.  And this makes for somewhat shaky results.

And, then, we create our curriculum around these objectively suspect findings.

So, happy was I (however, probably not the environment) as I fed these DRDP tools from the past 7 years into the paper shredder this week.  Another win for common sense.

And, as a footnote to this story, the needy of the community were not left out.  Our organization budgeted creatively and started their own program for subsidized after-school care.  Win-win.



The Primal Question

September 28th, 2012 by

Before we can even begin to discuss what needs to change in our system of education, we need to take a long, hard look at our raison d’etre for education in the first place.  Our cultural subconscious has been branded, as it were, since the 1950′s with the idea of what success looks like: more money, more power, more prestige.  And that is the ethic that we mindlessly hand down to our children: stay in school, even if it sucks, stick it out, get good grades, go get a “good” job, work your butt off for someone else’s profit for 50 years, retire, and hope you’ve socked enough money away that you don’t starve in your old age.

But what we are finding through the generations since the end of WWII is that having this “more” mentality has had some adverse effects.

People doing unrewarding, personally meaningless work because it pays well or because someone along the line told them they “should” pursue a certain career.  Important, necessary work falling to the wayside or relegated to the underclasses (or socially masochistic) because it has not been glamorized by our culture.  A subculture of people who will disregard ethics, principles, and even the rule of law if a certain activity will fill the “more” mold set forth by society.

As Brendon Burchard has written in his latest book, The Charge, Maslow’s hierarchy is now turned on its head.  In today’s uber-connected, sped-up, and super-informationalized society, our base needs have pretty much become a given.  Today, the poor of our country aren’t those who can’t afford food- they’re the ones who can’t afford cable TV and cell phones.  And behind this fast, profound change that we find our society amidst, is our human search for meaning… our drive to be fulfilled and live lives of purpose.

So… what does this have to do with education?

Today’s education model is still trying to turn out, assembly-line style, “workers” for the old economy.  People who will go accept any job to grab hold of a rung to try and climb to “the top”, wherever that is.  Children are told to sit down, shut up, and listen; the single most valued character trait in today’s schools is compliance.

Rarely are our children given any tools to understand, much less seek, fulfillment.  Rarely do our schools speak to children about meaning and purpose.  Yet new psychological studies are showing that children who do understand and have intrinsic representations for purpose and meaning are more apt to learn and contribute (See William Damon’s book “The Path to Purpose”).

So the question that must be asked is this: at the end of our kids’ compulsory education, do we want factory-ready worker drones, or do we want thinking adults with an intrinsic link to the meaning of being human?

I realize that it is not as simply dichotomous as presented above… but I do know that if we are to evolve as quickly as our technology is moving, we need to start questioning the foundation – the reasons – for our educational systems.

Finding Purpose and Meaning
It’s time for schools to foster the incubation of little humans’ search for meaning and purpose

What is the future of Education?

September 26th, 2012 by

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on what, exactly, the future of the American Education System is going to be, if we continue down the road we’re currently traveling… AND what the future could or should be, given our current level of technology development, social and cultural development, and the current damage being dealt to the next generation via our outdated, outmoded, and detrimental clinging to paradigms in education that were relevant 50 – 100 years ago, but are now counterproductive.

All this against the backdrop of my first experience as a PARENT within the education system… my child has just begun 1st grade…

Transforming an entrenched, funded, and “we’ve always done it this way” mindset within the education system is a daunting task.  Sometimes it feels too big, too overwhelming.  But, by the same measure, if someone – if I – don’t start, we’re going to have a real hot mess in (probably) less than a decade’s time.  Some folks think we already have a real hot mess now.

So, stop number one on this train ride, is thought provoking material from “The Innovative Educator” blog.  One teacher chimes in with “20 Things” – 20 insider observations – that he thinks outsiders should know about the education system… and another teacher comments on each of the 20 items. They don’t always agree, but the sum of their observations sheds much light on what is going wrong, or is about to go wrong, in today’s schools.

20 Things an Educator Wants the Nation to Know About Education

What do you think?

When Lawsuits (or the threat thereof) Rule the World

March 18th, 2012 by

Again, thanks to Lenore Skenazy of FREE RANGE KIDS for another thought-provoking article.

Read original post here.

Turns out, a mom with a toddler attending afternoon baseball games on the site of an elementary school sought to use the bathroom (actually, the toddler was seeking to use the bathroom…) of the on-site afterschool program.

The long and short of it is that the request was denied.

Reason?  Liability.  The afterschool program has a policy in place not to let outsiders use their facilities.  The “worst-first” thinking goes like this: what if the woman or child slipped while in the bathroom?  Then the afterschool center could be held liable for damages.

What’s worrisome to me is that our center (and all the other afterschool centers where I’ve worked in the past) have the same policy.  BAD THINGS happen in bathrooms, and the insurance company knows it.  So, better to have a policy forbidding unauthorized restroom use than to open yourself to the infinitesimal chance that something could happen.  Can’t be too careful, you know.

Got me to thinking about how pervasive this “worst-case-scenario” thinking is in our profession.  I’m sure there are many who would wrap the kids in bubble wrap and put them in the corner until their parents picked them up, if they could.

Like I’ve said before, I believe that the raison d’etre of school-age care is to foster the social and emotional growth of the charges in our care.

If we let the “bubble-wrap” thinkers take over, we’ve failed.

The Male-as-predator Stereotype Dies Hard

February 2nd, 2012 by

Back when I began working with children in the stone-ages of the 1990′s, there was an article in one of those “Parent” magazines entitled “How to Choose A Child Care Program”.  Being the unenlightened neanderthals that we were back then, bullet point number seven stated “Avoid the child care program where men are working”.  Really?  The logic is… most predators are male, so, it (il)logically follows that all men that work with kids must be child molesting monsters.  Even then, the idea seemed ridiculous to me.

Who do you see?

Recently, the magazine “Parenting” has shown us that this anti-male bias is not dead, some 20 years after my first encounter with it.  In an article entitled “The New Playdate Playbook” (linked here via CNN), a worried mother is told to cancel a sleepover when she finds out her daughter’s friend is being parented by a single dad.


What are the underlying assumptions here?  Single men are monsters?  You can’t trust a man with a child if there’s not a woman around to temper him?  Is this rational?

What’s even more strange… after a barrage of negative responses to this article, the editor of takes up arms to defend the original article.  You can read the editor’s response here.  He starts off balanced enough, but then disintegrates into the rationale that the original article’s author’s fear of a single dad should be defended under the idea that the opinion may be different, but it is valid (if I don’t like my kid’s friend’s parents because they’re African-American, is that “different, but valid” too?).  He further damages his credibility with a ridiculous ad hominem attack on a website who published a negative review of the article.

As long as articles like this show up in the mainstream, men (and especially men who choose to work with children and youth) will be viewed through a stereotype with suspicion.

Thanks to Free-Ranger Lenore Skenazy for bringing this article to my attention.

Introducing Generation Four (G4) in School-Age Care

December 28th, 2009 by

What do we mean when we talk about “Generation 4″ – or G4 when it comes to the Out-of-School-Time profession?

G4 is a direct thought-line descendant from “Generation Theory”- work that was pioneered and authored by the Ollhoffs, et. al. at Concordia University’s department of After-School Time (a subdivision of their Education Department).

In a nutshell, Generation Theory traces the purposes and defining characteristics of School-Age Care programs. Generation 1 had as it’s focus a simple warehousing of children while parents worked- a utilitarian viewpoint. Generation 2 followed with child-centered and developmental activities. Generation 3 took the long view of the child, family, school and culture, and promoted School-Age Care as an integral piece to the overall socialization of children and youth.

Through the heyday of the Youth Development Movement of the mid-to-late 1990′s (and early 2000′s), Generation 3 and Youth Development Theories seemed likely to create a critical mass nationwide in Out-Of-School-Time arenas and were poised to win the day as the gold standard for Out-of-School-Time philosophy. The National Afterschool Association (NAA) published it’s “Purple Bible” for quality baselines in School Age Care. Concordia University in St. Paul rolled out its groundbreaking School-Age Care degrees, both for undergraduate and post-graduate work.

Then came the Bush years (and, in California, the Schwarzenegger years)… No Child Left Behind became law, and Prop 49 was passed in California setting in motion a conflict for the soul of the Out-of-School-Time profession. Should after-school (School Age Care centers and Out-of-School-Time-focused organizations) continue in the vein of the Youth Development philosophy, or should they be co-opted as second-fiddle actors in the rush to boost school-day test scores?

Today, we stand at that crossroads.

Generation 4 will either see the continued development and implementation of Youth Develoment strategies and professionalization of the after school field, or it will fall as we see Out-of-School-Time disappear and be co-opted into a longer school day. At this point, it could go either way.

Disturbing Directions

July 15th, 2009 by

The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) is the largest professional non-profit serving out-of-school time providers in California and is also the state affiliate for the National Afterschool Association (NAA), the nation’s leading advocate for out-of-school providers.  Since its inception 26 years ago, CalSAC has provided California’s  out-of-school-time professionals with a pseudo-professional organization, giving them training, advocacy opportunities, and profession-related services.

Over the past couple of years, however, CalSAC’s general mission has been misguided.  CalSAC has recently shifted is focus away from professionalization and education of the field to other agendas.  Most recently, undue, almost catholic emphasis has been placed on equity, diversity, and anti-bias (or, in the words of some of the most aggressive employees and associates, “anti-oppression”).  While multicultural and social diversity is highly important in the training of out-of-school-time workers, it is not (and should not be) the “main course” of the diet of the professional.

What disturbs me most about the recent trends in CalSAC’s philosophy concerns the professionalization of the out-of-school-time field.  For decades, we watched the struggle of early childhood educators as they reached, struggled, and, to a degree, finally received professional status amongst educators.  This was brought on by powerful non-profit organizations (such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children – NAEYC) and tireless advocates who, for years,  spoke to anyone who would listen about the importance of preschool education and care.  The fruits of those labors have paid off.  Preschool educators are now respected, professional pay is rising, and governments have invested many dollars in the field.  Not surprisingly, NAEYC’s California affiliate, CAEYC, was one of the key players in bringing about this change.

All this happened while the out-of-school field was in its own “childhood” and looking on with hope and expectation that it was next to ride on the professional train.  For a few years in the 80′s and 90′s, it looked like that train might leave the station.

What happened in the in-between time could be the fodder for many more posts, so I will leave that topic unexplored for now.  What lit my fire to blog this post was what I read on CalSAC’s website today.  I will quote pieces, but it is too long to print in its entirety.  You can find the full text of  “The Challenge of After School Staffing” here.

The piece begins by asking the hypothetical question, “What if an industry the [sic] larger than the size of the 120,000-person telecommunications industry one day announced it would lose up to 40% of its workforce this year – and every year after?”  Good question.  The parallel waiting to be drawn here is with out-of-school care/enrichment programs.  The problem with the question is that the telecommunications industry (or any other large professional industry) would never have that kind of turnover.  It would find a way to save its jobs, come hell or high water.  Instead, we’re left to imagine that out-of-school-time is just a lost cause, not really a profession , so let’s look at how to live with 40% turnover.  That’s stinkin’ thinkin’ – especially so, because it is, however subliminal, the main premise of the article.

The article then goes on to describe CalSAC’s initiative which aims to bring in new workers to the field, not as professionals, but as entry-level grunts who are being primed to use out-of-school-time jobs as stepping stones to other related fields (by inference, one concludes that the best way to staff out-of-school-time programs is to bring in these “long-term temps” and just suck it up and accept that out-of-school time will never be a profession in and of itself).  To quote the conclusion of the article:

These workers, in turn, receive excellent entry-level job opportunities that mesh well with post-secondary education schedules and provide an ideal pathway into a job in education, social service, health, business, and a number of other sectors that require the human relations and job performance skills utilized in the afterschool field.

So this great initiative that CalSAC has put forward does nothing to stem the overwhelming turnover that plagues the out-of-school profession.  Instead, it perpetuates out-of-school time as a second-class field: a stepping stone for “real” lines of work such as social service, health care, and business.  All of which keeps the status quo firmly in place and ends up hurting children, youth, and families.

Should the School Day Get Longer?

March 29th, 2009 by

There seems to be a growing call across the country to lengthen the school day.  Advocates from every political stripe see this as an easy softball issue.  Really, who would be against our kids getting smarter?

Plus, one can hear the clarion call of fearmongering leaders who warn that Americans, after years of statistical gains, are either: 1) dropping out of school at alarmingly increasing rates, or 2) falling behind our industrialized-world counterparts in academic achievement.  This can only mean one thing: we need more school time!

Let’s look at this more closely.  First, the measurement of dropout rates has been a highly contentious issue.  For such a seemingly basic statistic, one hardly knows where to turn.  For instance, the 2000 graduation rate has been pegged in the United States at anywhere between 62 and 88 percent- depending on whose research report you’re reading.  That’s a pretty wide disparity of numbers for something that one can imagine could be easily calculated.  Really… we can land a man on the moon, and yet we can’t figure out a simple statistical datum with a disparity of less than 26 percentage points?

By most accounts, the dropout rate is (and has been for the past 20 years) between 10 and 12 percent with variable spikes and valleys throughout that span.  There has been neither sharp increase nor appreciable decrease since 1990.  This “alarming” dropout rate is certainly no reason to increase the amount of time kids spend in school.

Another tactic used by the panic-of-the-week politicos goes something like this (perhaps you’ve read an article like this before?)…

Headline: American Children Falling Behind Kids in (Japan, Australia, Canada, insert most worrisome country here) in (Science, Mathematics).

What kind of sick sport is this?  Let’s pit the children of the world against each other in academic competition?  What does the winner get?  Really, I’m with Alfie Kohn on this one, when he says that these types of academic competitions and comparisons only lead to a culture that filters down… not only are countries pitted against countries, but states against states, districts against other districts in their state, schools within a district against each other… and ultimately kids against kids.  How disquieting it is to know that my 7th grader is judged, not by the merits of his own learning, but, rather, by how he stacks up against the other 32 kids in his math class.  In his book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Kohn states (and I paraphrase): if all countries do poorly in terms of academic excellence, what glory is there in being at the top; likewise, if all countries do well, what shame is there in being at the bottom?

Surely, this artificial competition between countries, states, districts, and schools is no reason to elongate the school day.  That this competition may be about money… well, that’s a different question, but I won’t digress in this post.

Many Youth-Development-Based programs operate today, but are being threatened by the spectre of extended day programs that the feds and states have implemented.  In California, this has led to more state requirements and strings attached to funding while weakening some of the strengths of asset-based (Youth Development) programs.  More on this in another post.  The point being that the state (in California and other ‘forward looking’ states) are poised to co-opt afterschool programming to use it to create a longer school day.  This is a nefarious and ill-advised idea.

Schools don’t need more time.  Really- they have our children hostage six-plus hours a day, 180-plus days a year.  Really, if they’re saying they can’t get the job done in that amount of time, why should we, the parents and public, be willing to give them additional time?  Like marketing guru Dale Calvert told me over a decade ago… “don’t wish you had more… wish you were better!”

Fear and Loathing in Kindergarten

March 12th, 2009 by

Recently, Alfie Kohn came up with a wickedly wonderful bit of satire that you can read about here.

While the piece doesn’t deal directly with the world of Youth-Development based afterschool programs, the import should scare any after-school professional that isn’t already alarmed about the world of institutionalized education taking over the realm of out-of-school time.

It is a little scary that President Obama came out this week with ideas on Education reform- and managed to sound like he would have been right at home in the Bush administration on this one.  Using catch-phrase soundbites such as “tougher standards”, and raising the fearsome spectre that we are being “outpaced by other nations” (is this a winner-take all race?)… Obama has outlined plans that may include lengthening both the school day and the school year.  Heaven forbid that children actually have a childhood.

Kudos to the president for his willingness to put dollars toward Early Childhood Education… but as with all gifts from the government, we must ask, “at what cost”?  While it may sound silly to some, I firmly believe based on experience with federal (and state) largesse, that it will not be long before we have standardized testing in preschools.

And to what end?  Mr. Kohn, tongue not-so-firmly-in-cheek says:

We must never forget the primary reason that children attend school – namely, to be trained in the skills that will maximize the profits earned by their future employers.

Yes, that bit of satire might be much funnier if it wasn’t what was really happening.